Bad Batch



In a recent exchange of emails with a couple of fellow cartoonists the subject of the weekly batch of drawings came up.  It’s not an unusual topic between cartoonists, as the batch is what binds us all together, weekly.  The batch — “the batch” referring to the drawings you come up with and then submit to the New Yorker — is your grab for the golden ring, or, when things don’t go well, your ball and chain.  Without the batch you have no shot at The New Yorker (you gotta be in it to win it!), and sadly, sometimes (or most times) even with the batch, you still don’t have much of a shot.

Every cartoonist has their own system of approaching Tuesdays, when the batch is sent in, or brought in to the magazine’s offices.  On Tuesday mornings I take a long hard look at the work I’ve done all week and decide which of the new drawings are worthy to submit. Usually a few –- or on really bad days, more than a few — don’t make the cut.  Either a drawing suddenly seems nonsensical, or not quite “there” or just plain awful.  How could it be that a drawing that seemed so promising one day appears so worthless the next?  I don’t know –- all I know is that it happens on a regular basis.

The awful drawings are never submitted.  Instead they’re  placed into a folder I’ve labeled  “Bad Batch” – it’s my cartoon Siberia, or perhaps, cartoon Hell.  I’ve rarely looked through that folder, but when I have, I’ve found myself saying, “And you call yourself a cartoonist!”

Perhaps, for me, the most interesting thing about this folder is why it exists. If a piano falls on me tomorrow, do I really want my children seeing these?

It may be that the Bad Batch exists as a reminder.  The drawings within are the very bottom of my barrel full of monkeys (sorry, couldn’t resist). They are the product of muse-less days. I don’t need to look at these awful drawings -– just knowing they’re there is inspiration enough.



The Last Man Sitting







Sixty-six years ago this month James Thurber’s last original cartoon appeared in The New Yorker (the issue of March 23, 1946). Now before I get sympathetic emails telling me I’m woefully misinformed, and that Thurber’s drawings were appearing in the magazine well into the late 1950s, let me explain:

By the late 1940s Thurber had lost nearly all of his sight (he told Harvey Breit in a New York Times Magazine interview in 1949 that it had been a couple of years since he’d drawn and that he’d “practically given it up”).  Facing the sad prospect that there’d be no more Thurber cartoons appearing in The New Yorker, Thurber friend and New Yorker writer, Peter DeVries, suggested to Harold Ross that a great way to continue publishing Thurber drawings would be to take some of his already published drawings and add new captions (supplied, of course, by Thurber).  Ross loved this idea, and began running these hybrids with the September 11, 1948 issue.  The freshly captioned drawings ran until February 12, 1949 (and that last was a composite of two previously run Thurber drawings). Spot drawings, often edited from their original appearance, continued to appear until December 13, 1958.  The very last original Thurber drawing to appear in the magazine was a spot  of two men boxing (November 1, 1947).

That brings me back to the March 23, 1946 drawing/cartoon (whichever you prefer).  A man and a woman are sitting on a couch and the woman says, “Your faith is really more disturbing than my atheism.” By happenstance — or was it planned? — the man in this very last original cartoon is undoubtedly a self portrait.  Thurber had drawn himself many times before (and would draw himself one last time for publication – that appeared on the cover of Time in July of 1951), but how serendipitous that the last Thurber man standing (in this case sitting) in his last wholly original published  New Yorker cartoon would be Thurber himself.



Bowden, Edwin T., James Thurber: A Bibliography, Ohio State University Press, 1968.

Breit, Harvey, The New York Times, “Mr. Thurber observes a serene birthday,”  December 4, 1949.

Kinney, Harrison, Thurber: His Life and Times,  Henry Holt, pages 898 -902.